Preservation Update: Where Did the Stairs Go?

If you’ve visited the Cottage in the last few weeks, you might notice something missing from the south side of the building: The Stairs! Don’t worry, it’s just temporary. Due to years of rust on the cast iron finish, we are in the middle of refurbishing and repainting. Senior Preservationist Jeff Larry explains, with some photos below:

The cast iron steps off the south veranda of the Cottage were installed in 2005 as a reproduction of the stairs seen in photographs from Lincoln’s time. Rust began to appear, primarily on the stair treads, in 2010. These areas were typically treated individually by removing the rust and top coating with a Direct to Metal paint. Over the ensuing six years the increasing amount of rust appearing on the treads necessitated a more comprehensive approach.

During the summer of 2016, Senior Preservationist Jeff Larry, using a wire brush attached to an angle grinder, removed all of the paint on the treads and risers and applied three different types of primer to the stairs in an effort to determine which product best resisted further rusting. It was understood by this time that the stairs would eventually need to be dismantled and restored by a company specializing in cast iron finishes. But it was hoped that at least one of the primers would provide adequate rust resistance to delay the significant expense of removing the stairs and sending them away to be refinished. Unfortunately none of the primers provided adequate protection and within a year the stairs again showed signs of significant surface rust. Since 2010, all of the work on the stairs was limited to the treads and railings. Because of limited access, no work was ever done to the underside of the stairs. With the return of the rust in 2017 and the determination that the rust on the underside of the stairs was significantly advanced, ironworkers G. Krug and Son of Baltimore were chosen to perform the restoration. (Fun fact: the Krug and Sons building, which has been in the same location in Baltimore since 1810, has been continuously in operation by a Krug heir since 1851, That’s the same year that the Soldiers’ Home was founded.)

In early February 2019, the Krug crew arrived onsite and began the slow and careful process of disassembling the staircase. The components were then packed and sent to a sandblasting shop to remove all of the paint and rust. Last week, the components were brought to the Krug workshop where they began applying the first coat of a three coat process using the Tnemec line of paints. The stairs are expected to return in the end of March.

Funding for this project was provided by grants received from the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities and The National Trust for Historic Preservation.

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